The practice or state of being married to one person at a time
Or as it has evolved to become
The practice or state of having a sexual relationship with only one partner
The first thing that strikes me as amusing in both the above definitions – lifted from an on-line dictionary of good repute – is the word ‘practice’. We who freely indulge in monogamous marriage practice every day, we practice the art of marriage to varying degrees of success. It’s like learning to play a rare and beautiful, delicate, often volatile musical instrument that, try as you might, you will never conquer. Practicing without ever reaching anything even remotely approaching harmony does beg the question why? Why bother to climb a mountain knowing you’ll never live to see the view from the top?
Your chosen life partner – chosen with all the optimism of youth – ages, sags, wilts, fattens, farts, shrivels and dries up with every passing day and yet, as time passes, you dig in your heels and hunker down for the long game. Why bother when it’s been well documented that long bouts of sustained marriage can bring on crippling cynicism, bitterness, impotence, headaches and foot rot? Wouldn’t it be better if we all practiced some sort of serial monogamy, selling on old husbands or wives as we do cars? Advertising unwanted partners in the classified pages as, good natured, mature, a few problems at first but rectified early on, served me well. Trading in for newer model with added extras!
Well there are I’m sure several practical advantages to monogamy, one wife, one home, one mortgage and one wedding anniversary to remember for a start. The answer would be I suppose, that it’s more about the journey itself rather than expecting some reward at the end; a ticker tape parade through suburbia in an open topped motorcade.
Some believe that monogamy is the original and ultimate design, one man one woman ordained by none other than God himself, would you Adam and Eve it? Truth is that a lot of the early old school biblical characters were multiple polygamists; David, Abraham and Jacob were all at it and Solomon, the old goat, had 700 wives and concubines! I mean where do you put them all, where do they sleep and how do you feed them? It’s a big responsibility having 700 wives, that’s a birthday every 12 hours; you’d be forever blowing out candles! The question is of course; what were God’s feelings on the matter? Well he did say to David via the prophet Nathan – really Nathan – ‘if you don’t have enough wives I’ll score you some more’, I’m of course paraphrasing God here but you get the drift; God was down with it.
What’s also interesting is how the original meaning of having only one marital partner has evolved to mean one sexual partner. Interesting because supporters of the contemporary model like to believe that this has always been the case, yeah right, tell that to Solomon!
They argue also that it’s natural to have one life partner because swans do, funny how Darwin’s natural world helps them out when it suits. In truth almost all animals are not sexually monogamous even though 90% of birds are socially monogamous rearing their young together, they are not exclusive sexually! In one study, female blackbirds that were paired with sterile males still laid eggs that hatched!
Historically marriage has been a thing of convenience, a device to either pacify or divide; political manoeuvrings beneficial to all but the betrothed. Also a thing of breading, of passing on superior genes and keeping the family name alive, of insuring a male heir and making sure your daughters aren’t complete munters. The wife in this partnership marries not for love but for security, financial security for her and her brood. Love is a literal device born of romantic fiction of the 19th century not to be confused with real life. The husband of the time would honour his wife and children, keep his end of the deal so to speak and tolerate them. But little would have changed for him socially, he still comes and goes as he pleases and sees nothing wrong in having a mistress, visiting a whorehouse or indeed keeping a stable of concubines! Sex and marriage are two completely different concepts, you don’t have sex with your wife, you breed, it’s a task, a chore, a necessary evil, when it’s done you pop out and cleanse yourself with a lovely prostitute or two.
Here in France of course it’s well established that a husband should have the odd affair, keep a mistress or two, it’s bordering on normal, well maybe not totally acceptable but ever so slightly more so. I’ve pleaded with my wife on a number of occasions, I’ve pointed out, quite rightfully I believe, that other husbands will mock me openly for having the one woman! There is nothing like an affair, after all, to break the monogamy of marriage. Last year an Algerian butcher in Paris was caught cheating on his wife threefold. The French interior minister was outraged and demanded he be stripped of his French citizenship forthright! The butcher pointed out that if he were to be kicked out over practicing a national tradition, then so should thousands of other Frenchmen too; end of.
I know of two couples, young couples with children where the husband has succumbed to the wily ways of a rouge secretary or the effervescent smile of a barmaid of ill repute. In both cases the man, after filling his cup or tankard, slunk back to his marital home and, not being able to bear the guilt, owns up. The wife angry at first considers her partners philandering and after some thought blames herself in part and forgives him. But to make sure he never roams from home again she guarantees he’s well looked after, in the bedroom, in the kitchen, in all areas that matter to a man; I can only think of two at the moment but I’m sure there are others. Hello! Win, win situation here, not fair, not fair at all, me I’d get a kick in the nuts and no mistake but it all makes perfect sense when you think about it. The male species are here purely to mate and pass on the genes, once that objective has been accomplished with one female he’s biologically predisposed to find another sexual mate and repeat the process. It’s all very natural really, nothing more natural than reproducing. If a female has a sterile mate she is apt to find an alternative supply. Many men throughout history have unknowingly brought up the biological offspring of another man be it brother, best friend or neighbour. Not that I want you to reach for the paternity testing kit but look at him, is he really yours? Why is he so clever, you’re not that bright and he doesn’t get it from his mother, hmmm you know who is clever? The milkman, yep he’s real clever! Luckily for me I’m as fertile as the Mississippi Delta after spring rain and we don’t, or never have had, a milkman.
Monogamy for me means a home to come home to, a place where all of life’s many dramas are played out and the burden shared. Sex doesn’t interest me as much as love making, being with someone who despite all my faults – as she sees them – still loves me. When the shit hits the fan she’s there to help mop up – what a lovely metaphor – someone on whom I can trust, trust that my socks will be paired and my many appetites sated.
As much as I adore my present wife the idea of living with two, I have to admit, fills me with dread. Not to say that if all parties consent to such an arrangement I’m not opposed to others pursuing such a lifestyle! However I don’t see the benefits to a polygamist arrangement, not in the western world where women don’t need a man to support them or their children. If by some chance there becomes a shortage of men in the world and there’s an urgent need to repopulate then what the hell, that’s every man’s dream. But really, more than one wife sounds terribly unappealing, they would just gang up on me constantly, I’d end up spending all my time in a custom built shed. Ahhh, the man shed; a topic for another time! Really why burden yourself with an extra spouse anyway, no one even knows the plural for Mrs. No I’m happy with wife number 1, I’m still working on a mistress but truth be told, especially here in rural France, why go out for scrag end when you have ‘filet mignon’ at home?
Marriages differ from couple to couple, some couples operate an open marriage, others like to share their partners with other partners, all good clean fun I’m sure, and the best of luck to them I say. In other parts of the world, mainly Muslim countries, men can marry up to four women should they wish to. But, truth be told, we all need emotional support from time to time, we also need to hear the truth from someone who cares and knows us better than most. We need someone in our corner, someone that you would happily throttle one minute and lay your life on the line the next. I believe that ‘someone’ can only be realised though monogamy, one man, one woman against the world.
Man Shed: A self built retreat with all the comforts and stimuli available to a man within an arm’s reach. The man-shed is strictly off bounds to wives and their ilk.